The COVID 19 response and its impact on domestic violence

Published:19 March 2020

Domestic and Family Violence researcher Dr Brian Sullivan

How might our government policies responding to COVID-19 effect women who are victims of domestic violence, where home is already an unsafe space?

That's a question raised by CQUniversity domestic violence researcher Dr Brian Sullivan, who also asks "how could our COVID-19 response embolden already abusing and controlling men?"

Dr Sullivan has reflected on possible consequences but says these concerns are in no way meant to be definitive:

Enforced Lockdown

  • If a woman is living with a coercive controlling abusive man, she and her life are already in lockdown – she is microregulated in the home – her movements and whereabouts are monitored – she is living with an atmosphere of oppression and domination already – under threat and under surveillance already, like a hostage.
  • A COVID-19 lockdown could limit her freedom even more and make him even more dangerous because her isolation is now government policy.
  • If services (government and non-government) are also in lockdown and services are running with skeletal staff, will this mean that women’s support services are going to be harder to access? Will this mean that police response to domestic violence is going to be compromised? Will this mean that men’s domestic violence intervention programs are no longer able to keep eyes on him and keep him motivated to change if groups are not up and running?
  • If hospitals are inundated with patients who have contracted COVID-19 and emergency wards are overloaded, will this mean that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence is unable to get the medical attention she needs and when she needs it?
  • Will women’s domestic violence shelters be open and functioning and accessible? A woman’s pathways to safety may be roadblocked by enforced lockdown.
  • If churches, gyms, schools, kindergartens, etc are closed for business, are these other potential avenues of support for the woman that are now blocked for her?

Social Distancing

  • If neighbours are in lockdown and social distancing is the expected behaviour, could that mean a woman who is a domestic violence victim is even more isolated and cut off from informal social and extended family supports?
  • We know that disasters can cause financial strains and this context can be where an already violent and abusive man can escalate his violence and abuse. How are our already stretched intervention systems going to be to able to cope with this likelihood to keep women safe and perpetrators non-violent?

"There are many unknowns, unanswered questions and ongoing complexities in the current situation our society is trying to navigate," Dr Sullivan says.

"What we do know is that when resources are low, and responses are slow then the safety of women and children is compromised and our ability to contain and constrain perpetrators is weakened. We need to be on guard and prepared for this contingency also."

If this article has raised concerns or you have experienced domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 (24/7 counselling).